The LA Kings are on the right track, and Rob Blake has a lot to do with it.
Rob Blake was drafted by the LA Kings in the fourth round of the 1988 NHL Entry Draft. His playing career lasted from 1990 – 2010, and in that time, he won a Stanley Cup, a Norris Trophy, an Olympic Gold Medal and was named to several NHL All-Star teams. His outstanding playing career earned him election to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014.
Blake returned to the LA Kings organization in 2013 when he was hired to the role of Assistant General Manager to then General Manager Dean Lombardi. He would “cut his managerial teeth,” so to speak, as he would also serve as the General Manager for the Kings AHL affiliates in both Manchester, New Hampshire, and then Ontario, California.
In April of 2017, Rob Blake was named General Manager of the LA Kings, replacing former mentor Dean Lombardi. Kings ownership made sweeping managerial changes at that time, as fellow Hall of Famer Luc Robitaille was promoted to President of the organization. Together, they were tasked with rebuilding a Kings team that was falling on hard times after a run of Stanley Cup championship glory.
Not everyone was happy with the Blake promotion.
For all his achievements and accolades, Rob Blake was and is one of the most polarizing figures in recent LA Kings history. Many Kings fans remembered the acrimonious contract circumstances which led to him being traded to the Colorado Avalanche at the 2001 trade deadline. It’s true that he was going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season anyway, but the Kings were forced to trade him knowing they would not be able to meet his contract demands.
After four more seasons in Colorado, the Norris Trophy winner would return for a second stint with the LA Kings. After two seasons, Blake and the organization would be saying goodbye again, as he signed with the San Jose Sharks as a free agent for the 2008-09 season. Seeing the team captain (Blake was named to the post upon his return to LA) sign with the hated rival in teal was a bridge too far for some.
Still, others believe Rob Blake simply did not have enough managerial experience to be named to the general manager duties. At the time, the Kings had another in-house candidate to replace Dean Lombardi that was very qualified for the job in Mike Futa. Futa was a very popular figure within the organization and is renowned for his scouting abilities. There were many who felt that Futa had “paid his dues” and had earned the chance to the next General Manager in Los Angeles.
Despite the criticisms, Rob Blake has done a good job as General Manager of the Los Angeles Kings. Sure, the ill-fated Ilya Kovalchuk signing was a swing and a miss, but show me a general manager who hasn’t made a bad signing, trade, or draft pick in their career. Blake (and Robitaille, for that matter) inherited a team that was aging and devoid of a stocked pipeline – don’t forget, guys like Paul Ladue, Jonny Brodzinski, and Michael Mersch were considered top prospects in the organization at the time when Blake took over.
To start his tenure as general manager, Blake had the unenviable task of dismantling a team that brought the first-ever Stanley Cup championships to the City of Angels. Piece by piece, players like Jake Muzzin, Kyle Clifford, Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson, among others, were traded to gather much-needed prospects, draft picks, and salary-cap space to allow the team to build toward the future. Although it was painful to see fan favorites leave, the moves were entirely necessary.
What Blake has done as the LA Kings General Manager so far is actually quite remarkable. This is a team that was not so long ago butted right up against the salary cap, otherwise known as “cap hell.” Even with the buyouts of Dion Phaneuf, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Mike Richards still on the books for this season, the Kings currently have the third-most cap space in the NHL.
Yes, the team’s on-ice record has suffered in the past few seasons, but that is also a result of mortgaging the future in an attempt to keep the championship window open. The abundance of cap space will serve the LA Kings very well in the near future.
Perhaps even more impressive than the cap space is how quickly Blake and company have re-built the LA Kings prospect pool. The days of the organization’s pipeline being a liability are over, and the Kings now boast what is considered by many to be the best pool of prospects in the entire NHL. Players like Quinton Byfield, Alex Turcotte, Rasmus Kupari, Tyler Madden, Tobias Bjornfot, among others, might very well turn the Kings back into a Stanley Cup contender within a few years.
The next 12-18 months will be critical for Rob Blake and the LA Kings. Even with all the highly-rated prospects they have, additional players will be needed to complete the rebuild – via free agency or trade. It will ultimately be up to Blake who gets traded or how the abundance of cap space is used in signing free agents.
If he makes the right decisions, the Kings will quickly become a Stanley Cup contender if he doesn’t. They will be looking at another rebuild. Given the job he has done so far, LA Kings fans should have faith that he will make the right decisions going forward.